Where to Take a Stray Cat? 4 Simple Steps to Follow

Key takeaways

Finding a stray cat is a difficult situation to navigate. It's natural to want to help them, but we often don't know the best and safest way to do this.

The first step is to identify whether they are a stray or a feral cat.

If they are stray, follow our steps to provide the help they need.

If they are feral, follow our advice and call the correct organizations to come and care for the cat safely.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. Stray cats vs feral cats
  3. What to do when you find a stray cat
  4. What to do when you find a feral cat
  5. Can you keep a stray cat?
  6. FAQs
  7. <strong>Final thoughts</strong>

Stray cats vs feral cats

'Stray' and 'feral' are often used interchangeably when discussing homeless cats. However, they are terms that refer to very different cats, and it's important to know the difference.

Identifying a stray cat

A stray cat refers to a cat that has, at some point, lived indoors and been socialized with people. They have then found themselves living outdoors or on the street either because they have been neglected and abandoned, or they have chosen to leave.
A stray cat will often be confident around people. This doesn't necessarily mean that they will be fond of people or want attention and cuddles, but they are unlikely to be aggressive.
With time and patience, a stray may approach you or allow physical contact. In some cases, they may be super friendly straight away!
They may also look underweight, and their coats may be dirty or matted, but they are unlikely to look completely neglected.

With time and patience, a stray may approach you or allow physical contact. In some cases, they may be super friendly straight away!

A cat wandering around outside at night

Identifying a feral cat

A feral cat is one that lives and survives with no human contact. They are self-sufficient and have always lived alone outdoors, so they have never been socialized with people.
Feral cats will usually behave very aggressively towards people. Alternatively, they will be very fearful and run away to hide if a human tries to make contact with them.
Because they rely on their own hunting and finding their own shelter, they may look very neglected. This can result in:

Dull, dirty, and matted coat


Visible effects of fleas and other parasites

Injuries left untreated from territory fights

A feral cat sat in a tree

What to do when you find a stray cat

Stumbling upon a stray cat can be some people's dream (like me). However, it's important that we follow the right protocol so they are taken care of responsibly.

1. Make sure they aren't a pet

The first step is to make sure they aren't a pet. Outdoor/indoor cats that don't wear collars or ID tags can be easy to mistake as a stray.
Take the following steps to rule this out:

Ask your neighbors: Start by taking a picture of the cat and knocking on your neighbors' doors to see if they recognize them.

Post on social media: If any neighbors don't claim the kitty, they may be a pet that belongs to someone further away. A great way to spread the message further is to post the photos on local social media groups. Provide extra details about the cat's behavior and physical traits so they are easy to identify.

Of course, this won't always get back to the owner if there is one. So, use your own judgment as well. If they are:

Well groomed

Socialized and friendly

Healthy looking

They are unlikely to be living on the street.
A cat walking away from home

2. If you can, take them to a veterinarian

Once you have determined that they are in fact a stray cat and not a lost pet, you should take them a local veterinarian practice to have them checked over. Here, they can also scan for a microchip to double check they don't already have an owner.
If they are a friendly stray cat, then you should be able to get them safely into an animal carrier. To make it easier, use the following steps:


Place the carrier down on the floor


Put treats at the back of it


Take some steps back and let the cat enter the carrier


Once they are in, zip it up/close it

This may distress them initially, so try to keep them calm by talking to them and keeping them in a quiet place.
Top Tip: It's a good idea to call ahead to the veterinarian practice to let them know you have found a stray cat and are bringing them in for a checkup.
A vet checking a cat for illness and injuries

3. If you can't, contact local animal control

Even if your stray cat is confident and friendly, they may still refuse to go anywhere near a carrier. And when a cat has made their mind up, it's pretty difficult to change it!
Forcing the cat into a carrier is a bad idea. This may frighten them and cause them to run away or become aggressive, putting you in danger.
Instead, contact the local animal control agency and report the kitty. They will come and use a humane trap to capture the cat safely and then take them for a checkup.

Forcing the cat into a carrier is a bad idea. This may frighten them and cause them to run away or become aggressive, putting you in danger.

A busy animal shelter

4. After, take them to a local animal shelter

Sometimes, a veterinary practice may take the cat to a local animal shelter themselves. However, often, they will return the cat to you and advise what your next steps should be.
Taking them to an animal shelter is an important step. This is because they can check any reports of missing cats that may match your stray cat. If there are no reports, then if it's appropriate, they can put the cat up for adoption and try to rehome them to live a better life safely.

What to do when you find a feral cat

If you have identified the cat as a feral cat, then you should follow a different protocol to keep you and the cat safe.

1. Don't make contact

While stray cats are relatively safe, feral cats can be very aggressive. Approaching them and making contact may put you at risk of being scratched or bitten. While this doesn't sound too bad, feral cats can carry diseases and infections that can be passed on in open wounds.
Not only can it be dangerous for you, but it can also distress and frighten the feral cat, which can cause them to run away.
Instead, keep your distance and observe them from afar. If you are with a group, it's best to have only one person stay. Otherwise, the cat may feel intimidated or frightened.
Two cats outside

2. Assess if they are sick or injured

It's not appropriate to take feral cats to shelters to be rehomed. This is because it's very unlikely they'll ever be able to be resocialized to live indoors with humans if they have spent their lives outdoors. The only effective time to do this is if they are still kittens.
There may still be reason to intervene, however. If they are sick or injured, then animal rescue charities will take them in to be treated and give them the medicine they need.
When you are observing them, look out for the following:


Open wounds

Redness or signs of infection on their skin

Infected eyes

Infected ears

Outdoor cat exploring a garden

3. Report them to animal control

If they are injured, report them either to animal control, a local shelter, or animal rescue groups. They will come and assess the situation.
Even if you don't see any injury, it's still important to report the feral cat or cats you saw, especially if there are kittens. This is because they may be able to neuter them.
Unneutered stray and feral cats can cause huge issues. They reproduce at rapid rates and contribute to the overpopulation of street cats that don't have access to the care they need to live a high-quality life. This is why many local rescue organizations operate a trap, neuter, return process for feral cats.

Can you keep a stray cat?

The short answer is yes, you can keep a stray cat. If you can prove that you have done all you can to try to find and contact the owners, then you are legally allowed to keep them.
If you are considering this, ask yourself the following questions:

Can you afford to care for them?

Do you have enough space at home for a cat?

Do you have enough time to adequately care for a cat?

Are you willing to spend time and effort socializing a stray cat and training them?

Does owning a cat fit into your lifestyle and future plans?

If you are prepared to own a cat and understand that a stray cat may take more patience and effort to help them get comfortable in their new life, then keeping the cat may be the best option for both of you!
Two cat owners with their new stray cat


What should I do with a stray cat?

If you find a stray cat, you should do all you can to find out if they have an owner. Ask neighbors, use social media, and post flyers. If no one comes forward, take them to a veterinarian practice or a local animal shelter to check them for a microchip. If they aren't claimed, the shelter can put them up for adoption.

Where is the best place to take a stray cat?

The best place to take a stray cat is a veterinarian practice or local animal shelters. Here, they can scan them for a microchip, check their health, and then take care of them accordingly.

What do I do with a stray cat I found?

If you have found a stray cat, try to find the owner. Use social media, post notices in the community, and ask the neighbors. If no one comes forward, take them to the vets or a rescue organization.

Should you take a stray cat to a vet?

Yes, you should take a stray cat to a vet. This way, they can scan them for a microchip to check if they have owners and also check their health. If they don't have an owner, they may even neuter them to prevent them from reproducing.

Is it cruel to leave a stray cat?

While stray cats may be able to fend for themselves, the likelihood is that they will not have a long or happy life. If you find a stray cat and they don't have an owner, take them to the vet or report them to a rescue group so they can get the care they need.

Is it better to leave a stray cat alone?

No, it is not better to leave a stray cat alone. An outdoor cat is unlikely to have a high-quality life because they will not get the care they need. You don't need to make physical contact with the stray cat, you can simply report them to local rescue groups that will come and assess the situation and see if they need medical attention.

Are stray cats happier outside?

Stray cats aren't necessarily happier outside, but they are unlikely to enjoy an indoor-only life. Cold temperatures, predators, and lack of shelter makes a completely outdoor life miserable. However, providing a home as well as the freedom to go outside will make them a lot happier!

Can you just take a stray cat?

Before you take a stray cat home, you have to prove that you have done all you can to try to find the owner and contact them. If you have done this and the cat is still not claimed, you are free to take the cat home and care for them as your own pet.

Final thoughts

Finding a stray cat outdoors can be distressing for any animal lover. They can often look injured or sick, and our first instinct is to help them.
We hope this guide has helped you navigate a difficult situation and will lead to a stray cat getting the care and attention they need!

Written by

Image of the author
Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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